Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Recipe for success

"Don't push, don't push. Keep a maintainable pace, don't push..."

I'm repeating this mantra in my head as I begin chugging up the climb from the Randall Trail turnaround. I'm finally starting to feel better and have my mind set on the next aid station at Bolinas Ridge during this, the longest leg between stations. I've just managed to get myself out of hydration-debt and I want to be careful to not go there again. I know after the next aid station is a long run along the exposed ridge and then Pan Toll Station at which point, I've been telling myself, I will know that I can finish. However, that's still a ways off with plenty of struggle ahead and I should probably start this report with the tale of how my race almost ended before it even began.


I'd taken off early from work on Friday in order to get all my things together and assure myself some rest that afternoon. I told Chihping that I would pick him up at 4am so I was planning to wake just a little after 3. I'd packed my drop bag including my trail shoes (though I intended to stay in my road shoes), a change of socks, a change of shirt if needed and a few other items that wouldn't be included in my waist pack where the important stuff went. I didn't want to make the mistake I had at Firetrails last year where I had left some items in my drop bag that I should have taken with me such as advil and extra electrolyte tablets. I had both my water bottles setup, a larger 26oz bottle in a UD FastrDraw Plus holder and a 20oz bottle that would go into my Nathan G-Trek waist pack. The bigger bottle would hold NUUN and the smaller, plain water. I had found and cleaned out my old gel flask (don't ask how long the it had been sitting at the bottom of my gear drawer) since I lost my new one at AR50. I carefully filled it with my combo of Clif Shot flavors (chocolate, mocha and double espresso) and clipped it to the front of my waist pack where it would be less likely to fall out than if it was in the integrated holder in the back. I then loaded up the front pocket with three baggies, one holding 12 NUUN tablets, another holding about 10 S!Caps and a final one with a few Advil. I then picked out my clothes for the race (especially my signature fluorescent green gloves) along with some warm things to wear before and a few things to change into after including the all important nubby sandals. Everything either into the bag or next to it depending on whether it needed to be worn or brought to the race. Alarm set, coffee setup, time to rest.

It's 3am and I'm awake. I don't wait the extra 5 minutes for my alarm, I just get up and put on my headlamp to tool around the room without waking my wife. I actually got some sleep combined with a short nap the previous afternoon and so I feel fine. Shower. Breakfast. Coffee. Drink some water and see if I can "take care of business" before heading out, but the body says that's gonna have to wait until Rodeo Beach. OK, 3:45. Time to go. Grab my gear bag. Kiss Zane on the forehead. Review the directions to Chihping's house and I am off.

Chihping and I have a good chat on the way up (as best we can over the sound of my noisy Jeep Wrangler). We arrive at Rodeo Beach in good time. He heads to the check-in, I head to the john. My body cooperates and I am very happy. My biggest pre-race fear now seems to be out of the way. The line of guys waiting when I come out all look very fast. Especially one particularly recognizable Western States record holder standing in front. "Guess I won't see him until after he hits the turnaround", I think. I go check in and get my picture taken by Chihping before heading back to the car to get the rest of my gear.

That smile was soon to disappear. I got back to my jeep and opened the back. I took out my water bottles and then reached for my waist pack inside my bag. It wasn't there. I looked around for a while, but I knew immediately that I'd left it. I just stopped and stared down at my bag, frozen in disbelief. I could feel the fear starting to creep into my head as my vision for this race crumbled into dust. There was left than 10 minutes until race start. Runners were beginning to gather. There was really not time to do anything about this situation and certainly no time to let that fear seep in any further. I'd tried running with two water bottles in training and found it very awkward. I like swapping my single bottle between hands. Furthermore, the fact that one bottle didn't have a hand-strap was something I wasn't prepared to deal with right now. I put the extra bottle in my drop bag and decided I would run with just one until Pan Toll (mile 21.7). I would have to drink whatever they had on course. I had a few S!Caps and some gels in my drop bag which I stuffed in the small pockets of my shorts. I then tied the bag up, walked to the pile of dropped bags and tried not to think about it. Finally, I went through the important mental exercise of throwing out all expectations. My "stretch" goal of low-12s. Ha! My sub-12:30? Out. Sub-13? Unlikely. Just finish. I imagined myself spending lots of time at aid stations, struggling to get from one to the next especially late in the race.

The runners were starting to move. We walked towards the beach in one big group. I put everything negative out of my mind. Told myself to just make it to Pan Toll and reassess. I told myself that running sans waist pack would make me feel light. I told myself a single bottle would make me efficient. I looked down at my bright green gloves and I smiled.

It was cold on the beach before the start. We all sort of huddled together like emperor penguins. Then we went. The mass moved across the beach. The front runners did what front runners do. The rest of us made it to the first hill and, abruptly, came to a halt. This bottleneck is famous and if you want to avoid it, you better be in front. I had pretty much adopted a "whatever" attitude at this point and just rolled with it. I normally like to get running and warmed up immediately in races, but I knew I would be forced to walk for a while here. We eventually got through the bottleneck and to the road. I don't remember a lot about this part. I think I walked some, ran slow some. Basically, just looked around a lot and waited to get through to the trails and then the first downhill. The whole first part of the race basically just "went by" in my mind. I wanted the time to pass. I wanted to focus on hours not minutes. I remember running some great, fairly technical downhill and passing lots of people (many of whom would pass me on the next uphill). I remember hitting the aid stations and focusing on salted potatoes especially after I realized I had dropped all but one of the few S!Caps I had stored in my pocket (and most of the my Clif Shots as well). The Gu2O they had on course was not bad, but even between these early aid stations, I was pretty much draining my bottle. I remember the climb up to Pan Toll through the woods. I'd been on these trails before both at the Double Dipsea and the Muir Woods Marathon. It was beautiful, but it was also beginning to warming up. However, I had managed to find the groove of my patent-pending SHLOG (SLow SHuffle jOG) and was moving pretty well. I felt OK.

Pan Toll. Even before I get in, an aid station volunteer is taking my water bottle, asking my number to go and get my drop bag, asking what I want from it. Wow! I feel almost embarassed by this level of support (which would go on throughout the day...these guys ROCKED!) I take just my extra water bottle from the bag as I am feeling a bit behind in drinking and the ridge is going to be warm up ahead. Hydration is on my mind. I try to drink as much as I can at the station. I ask around for electrolytes. No dice, so I eat as much salted stuff as I can take and I can feel it in my stomach a bit. I don't like to stay too long at aid stations for fear that I will never leave so I head out towards Bolinas Ridge.

Things go downhill. The trail is actually uphill a bit and the ridge is rolling, but my state was going in a singular direction. I was really having trouble with these two bottles. I normally keep my FastDraw in my left hand and only swap to my right on occasion. I was having a lot of difficulty holding that other bottle in my right hand. It was frustrating me. Frustration and ultras don't mix. I tried holding both bottles with one hand. Not happening. I even tried putting a bottle under my arm. Lame! I finally switched my FastDraw to my right hand and the plain bottle to my left. This felt OK. I went with this, occasionally switching hands for variety. The ridge was beautiful, but I wasn't enjoying it as much as I should have. I was focused on making sure to drink during this 6.7 mile section. Part of the trail is really slanted and the idea of a twisted ankle added further stress to my fragile-growing mental state. Finally, we got off the exposed part of the ridge and into the woods. The trail headed downhill and I took off running in my typical "no brakes" style until I ran smack dab into a downed tree. This was just a small one and I managed to slow enough to not go flying over it. At another point, there was actually a VERY large downed tree which I had fun climbing over (but I heard others complain).

I made it to Bolinas Ridge aid station and once again the awesome volunteers took care of me taking both my bottles and filling to my directions. I ate and drank some more knowing that this next section was over 7 miles. I still wasn't feeling great. I pulled over shortly after to give my hydration level a check. Hmm...too little, too yellow. Yep, I've been in hydration-debt for some time. The next section was totally new to me so I focused on just looking around for a while. We were still technically on the ridge, but we were in the woods for a little bit. Then we came out and had a couple more rolling hills in the sun. I took my one electrolyte tablet. Cresting one of the hills, I noticed someone up ahead pushing through the bushes to get around a rather large mud puddle. He immediately took off running. I thought, "he can't be in the race running like that this far in". Then I noticed he had a race number on and my only thought was "that's the front-runner, holy sh*t he's flying". I had just been passed by the (now) legendary Lon Freeman. There would be more runners coming behind him, but not for a while, about 5 minutes or more. I distracted myself watching and cheering on these speedsters. A guy behind me caught up and I decided to run with him. I had been abnormally unsocial for most of this race and really needed all the distraction I could get in order to make it to the turnaround. The guy's name was Harris. He's from Pleasanton and seemed to be having a little difficult time as well. After talking to him and discovering that he ran 8:13 at AR50, I realized how far off pace he was. We ran and talked watching the fast people go by the other way. I think the most impressive sight was seeing Kami and Nikki come running by, stride-for-stride. They looked as if they were just cruising along and chatting on a nice spring day. Well, except for the fact that their pace was incredible and they were somewhere around mile 40 in a 62 mile race!

Harris told me that we were approaching the left turn that would lead us down the Randall Trail to the turnaround. This section reminded me of Firetrails except we were in the shade and on softer trail. I left Harris and decided to just let my legs go for the mile and a half of downhill knowing that the climb (or crawl) back up would be long and slow. I saw lots of people coming up here including many I either recognized or knew ("hey, Chihping!"). As I started recognizing people I had been running near earlier in the race. It made me feel good knowing that I hadn't fallen too far back. I got to the aid station, handed over my bottles and started drinking and eating fresh fruit. I started dipping food into salt at will. Potatoes, fresh fruit and even a peanut butter sandwich at one point...not bad. The 7.2 miles back behind me was going to be the longest section of the whole race, but I was already over half way and feeling happy. I don't remember exactly, but I hit the half-way point somewhere around 6 hours or so. Harris arrived at the aid station and we headed back out together.

About 5 minutes of walking uphill and I felt the need to pull over for a pit stop. Finally, I was re-hydrated! I walked with Harris a little while longer and then told him that I wanted to let my legs move a bit. Time to shuffle. That was the last I saw of him. Ahead was a woman whom I had seen a few times earlier in the race. We'd swapped places a few times as she was pretty good at the power-hike thing (my weakness) and close to or faster than me on the flats. I stuck behind her for a little bit, but eventually shuffled on past. She seemed to have an amazing amount of energy as I could hear her behind me cheering on the runners heading down with incredible exuberance. I tried to do my part, but usually just managed a simple "good job", "keep it up" or "way to work". I saw more people I knew and had fun encouraging everyone. I realized that cheering people on usually does as much for my own spirits as it is for theirs. It also usually helps my mood to be reminded that there are plenty of people behind me working hard. Just keep moving.

This is the part where things get better ("they never, always get worse"). I was mostly running in my shuffling sort of way. I sometimes walked and the woman with lots of energy caught up and we continued exchanging places and pleasantries up until the Bolinas Ridge Station. Here I learned that they had run out of Gu2O. I drank some coke and ate some more salted potatoes. I also grabbed some "Espresso Love" Gu which I had been taking occasionally. I wasn't too happy about the prospect of running on the exposed ridge in the early afternoon sun with only water and no electrolytes approaching the 50 mile point. However, I had earlier told myself that all I had to do was make it back to Pan Toll and finishing was assured. I headed out. The woman with whom I'd been playing yo-yo went as well. We talked for a while and I learned that her name was Meridith. She's from Texas and is running States this year. She ran Miwok last year and said that she "fell apart" out here on the ridge. We stuck together and encouraged each other. After expressing my concern over my water-only, no electrolyte situation she offered me some of her S!Caps. This was a life saver as far as I was concerned. I told her I'd get her through the ridge and we both committed to dipping our legs in the ocean back at Rodeo Beach. Together, we made it to Pan Toll.

Things were looking good. 12.5 miles left. Fresh socks on the feet. Rub my legs down with some ibuprofen cream. I still didn't have any Advil, but all I had to do was mention it and two different volunteers hunted some down for me! I drank and ate some more and filled both bottles which should be more than enough for the next 5.2 miles. I stuck with Meridith for this part as she ran last year and I knew there was a tricky turn somewhere up on this section. We also ran with a guy and his pacer who also appeared to know the course. We left Pan Toll station with under 10 hours on the clock and Meridith commented that as long as we take no more than 3 hours to finish, a sub-13 was in the bag. I said that I thought a sub-12:30 was still possible. She agreed, but said we would need to run a good pace from here on out and push it up the last couple of hills. They were supposedly real killers. It didn't matter, my mind was set.

The next couple of miles had some nice downhill and then some flats through thick overgrowth. Then the first climb started up switchbacks to climb towards Hwy-1. It was time for me to just go heads down, low gear. I left Meridith and the other couple behind. I was pushing, but still at a maintainable pace. The switchbacks went on for a while, but I was focused. I finally got to the top and crossed the road. I focussed on efficiency at the aid station asking for my water to be filled only part way and Gu2O a little below the top (only had to last 3.7 miles). I grabbed a couple bites and a Gu and was off. The next hill was a grind and I recognized it as the part I had run fast down early that same morning. This, then went on to a firetrail that continued to climb further. I could see others up ahead and even though the climb was pretty relentless it didn't seem as bad. There was some shade and it was a pretty good grade as far as I was concerned. I seemed to be the only one without a pacer, but I prefer to run within myself near the end of a race anyway.

I made the last aid station and got through in similar fashion as the previous. Only 3.8 miles left and one last climb, but it looked steep. I was determined to just "get it done" at this point. I used my "granny gear" as best I could only walking briefly on one hill where I started slipping. I could see where the trail started to level and go around the hill. I hit this section and put it in cruising gear. I passed one last person and asked if the hills were done, they confirmed that there was a last little uphill and then it was pretty much down from the road. I realized that 12:15 wasn't possible, but thought maybe 12:20. I got to the road and had a moment of panic. There were pink ribbons both to the left and the right and the finish was directly below me. However, the left went slightly uphill so I started right. I saw some hikers and asked if it was the right direction and they confirmed. Time to go. Well, that is, except for the road. I wanted to let it fly, but running downhill on the road was not my idea of the good late-race terrain. In fact, I almost slipped at one point trying to run on the grass shoulder and had this great image of myself face-flat on the ground less than a mile from the finish. At this point I realized that 12:20 wasn't gonna happen and 12:25 was a stretch. However, I was pretty sure 12:30 was in the bag so I made up my mind to just take it easy and enjoy the last bit of this race. I made it to the dirt and cruised on down, beelining the corners.

The great thing about the end of Miwok is that people can see you coming a ways off as you wind down the last hill. You can also see the parking lot and finish line getting closer and closer as you descend.

Off the dirt, down a little grass hill and into the parking lot. I toss my watter bottles to the side so I can run in with style. I'm still wearing my green gloves. Even though it was much too warm to need them, at some point they became my good luck charm and they weren't bothering me so I left them on the whole run including up on the ridge. I cross the finish line with green gloves raised.


Amazingly, I still felt good. However, I was very glad to have it done. Unlike after my first ultra at Ohlone or my first 50M at Firetrails, I did not immediately think that I could come back and run this better next year. Just finishing Miwok in whatever time I could is such an accomplishment that coming back and doing it again would just be icing. This race was tough. Really tough. But, the best part of ultras is the retrospect. Sitting here typing this I can't recall the really tough spots; only the glow of accomplishment, having conquered a challenge I set for myself.

There was one thought I did have at the end. After finishing and getting my metal. I turned and looked back up at the trail. I asked myself, "Could I head back out there and somehow do another 38 miles of these same trails?" I was as surprised as anyone to discover that the answer was an unequivocal "YES". So, I guess that's it. I have to sign up for the Headlands Hundred.

Oh yeah...
One more thing, the real recipe for success. To guarantee yourself a successful race, make sure to have your emotional low point right there at the start of the race. Things can only look up from there :-).


miki said...

Damn Steve! Big hugs and a huge congratulations to you. I am so friggin impressed. What a great ride and omg I can't believe how it all started out. I would have been in shell shock for miles if I had forgotten all my carefully packed gear. Congrats on a great time and a job well done. Can't wait to cheer you on in the Headlands 100. I definitely plan on volunteering for that. This is so cool. So very very cool. :)

Addy said...

Awesome race report! I would have just about died mentally if I got to the start of my first 100k and realized that I was missing half my gear! Amazing job keeping it together and still having an awesome race.

Your 'learning curve' as it were for these distances gives me hope for doing Miwok next year, as I'm also going to be using Firetrails as my first 50 :) After reading a report like this (and working at Pantoll Aid station- I think I remember seeing you!) I definitely want to get out there for myself

Thanks so much for sharing :)

And Congrats again! Can't wait to hear how headlands 100 goes. Should be a great race

Eudemus said...

Thanks Miki. It really was an incredible race and another important learning experience. Each time you push yourself and your body you learn a little bit more about what it can do and how to deal with it. I'm glad to hear your going to be working the 100. It will be very cool to see a familiar face. I still have a ways to get there, but it is on my mind. I think what scares me most about HH is not the distance, not running at night, but the fact that it is two loops. I really liked the fact that all my biggest races have had a turnaround or stopping point that is *past* the halfway point. The idea of being at the end of a 50 and having to start another one is a bit troubling...

miki said...

I haven't even looked at the route for Headlands. That is a little disconcerting. I actually don't like the Angel Island run because of the looping factor. But since it's such a BIG loop, maybe it won't be so bad.

So, curious, how is the body holding up this week?

Eudemus said...

Addy, I'm glad you enjoyed the report. As for forgetting my gear, it actually turned out to be a really good lesson (in retrospect). It really taught me that I can make adjustments on the fly and how to listen to my body rather than external factors. In my recent ultras I have really been running a lot more "by feel" than anything. I haven't studied the courses or planned split times or even thought about the distances between aid until I am out there. These probably aren't always the best practices in general, but they have taught me to pay more attention to my body and how I feel than on some external expectations that I may have set before the race.

Firetrails is an awesome first 50 miler. It was mine last year and I plan on going back this year to improve my time. The course is challenging and beautiful, the support is amazing, and the RDs are two of the greatest ultra runners ever to walk the earth!

By the way, if I didn't say it out there, thanks to you and all the volunteers out there. The support at Miwok continued to impress me throughout the day.

Harry said...

Congrats, Steve!

I'll see you at the Headlands Hundred, then.

Eudemus said...

Miki, yeah, I really hate loops. Two big loops seems like a better option than multiple loops. However, I have become really efficient at the aid stations and try not to linger except when I need to deal with the drop bag. This is why I like that to be NOT at the half way. Transitioning from the 50 to 100 seems like it will be a bigger ordeal requiring getting lamps and extra cloths together. Seems like more time to psych yourself out mentally :-).

The body is holding up really well after Miwok. I went for a nice easy hour long bike ride Sunday afternoon and then a walk in the evening with my wife. Monday night I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill and did some abs. I was going to try and run a little yesterday afternoon, but I ended up falling asleep and taking a nap since I've been getting up early lately. I will run tonight.

olga said...

Awesome time, Steve! And how fun to bump into Mer, help each other, chat together and she is also a fellow blogger! http://mersadventures.blogspot.com/ (and a Montrail teammate:))

I love this course, it's wonderful! First time I hear they ran out of Gu2O, bummer, really. And glad that you thought positively after a beginning mishap:) Way to go!

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Steve, thanks for the wonderful report. As I read it, I feel like being in Miwok again! Can't wait for next year!

Glad to know that you came back from misplacing things in the beginning. Your body can respond positively only when you explore the limits. Listen to your body and appreciate how it responds.

Good luck in HH!

Btw, I'm in Firetrail this year. (signed up the first day when it was opened last year :-) This is my third year in row. While running Firetrail, I somhow thought Firetrail is more scenic than Miwok :-)


Rajeev said...


Great report my man. You pulled up your socks and went out, like a true warrior, and did what you had to. Congratulations on your triumph. Good luck with the Headlands Hundred.


angie's pink fuzzy said...

wow, what a great report.